Is It Stealing if You Charge Your Electric Car in a Public Outlet?

One man was jailed for topping his car off at the local middle school.

Image
Reuters

In a bind, you probably wouldn't think twice about recharging your cell phone in the nearest public outlet, maybe in a hotel lobby or a bookstore or (via Mike Riggs) in the men's room of a bus terminal. Our increasingly electronic lives sometimes demand electricity on the go.

No big deal, right? You just need a few minutes. But what if the battery that's running low happens to be in your electric car?

The Verge reports this morning that a guy in Georgia was recently arrested for cribbing what amounted to 5 cents worth of electricity for his Nissan Leaf from the external outlet at his son's middle school. An officer approached and warned the driver, Kaveh Kamooneh, that he was stealing. After the officer sought an arrest warrant, Kamooneh was arrested nearly two weeks later. He spent 15 hours in jail for the crime.

Via The Verge's Tom Warren:

In an interview with Atlanta's Channel 11 News, Kamooneh likens his charging to plugging in a cellphone at a coffee shop. "People charge laptops or cell phones at public outlets all the time, and no one's ever been arrested for that," says Kamooneh. Chamblee Police Sergeant Ernesto Ford is sticking by the arrest, noting that “a theft is a theft,” but Kamooneh plans to fight the charges.

It's obviously impossible to charge a car with the unobtrusive ease of a cell phone. And EVs will demand a lot more power (and outlet time) than any handheld device. But scenarios like this could create awkward precedent for how we plug in other devices in public places. And it highlights the peril of owning an electric car before the technology – and the charging infrastructure to accompany it – has become widespread.

Until that time, it's easy to envision early adopters doing what Kamooneh did, plugging in at post offices and public parks and restaurants. The question then becomes: Is this illegal, or just gauche, or neither? Clearly, it's a no-no to siphon someone else's gas. But a little energy?

Top image of Nissan Leaf: David Manning/Reuters

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.